Tackling both the real and perceived challenges of forced migration is an urgent task that requires solidarity, humanity and honesty, say experts.
Leading migration experts emphasized these themes during a panel discussion at the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) Council Plenary Meeting held in Rome from 6-8 March.
The panelists brought to the table their experience working with people on the move and developing and implementing policy to present a picture of the state of migration and refugees today.
Naming the Challenges
The primary challenge in managing global migration is that more people than ever before are facing forced migration.
Carol Batchelor, Director of the Division of International Protection at the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR), stated that today more than 66 million people are refugees, stateless persons, or internally displaced.
Meeting their current needs for support and protection presents enormous, complex challenges and also raises significant concerns for future stability in especially fragile States.
A refugee child is displaced on average for 17 years, Batchelor said.
“That’s their entire childhood gone. How do we expect to reconstruct and rebuild and reconcile Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, so many places around the world, when the adults that should do it have not necessarily been empowered, [or] received education, a name and identity when they were children?”
The response requires solidarity and unity. “We cannot rely on the hospitality of some without the hospitality of others,” Batchelor stated.
Michele Klein Solomon, Director, Global Compact for Migration, at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) highlighted the rise of populism and the “demonization of migrants and refugees.”
She emphasized the need for a “more evidence-based, accurate narrative about migrants and migration,” as well as “policies that are not framed from a criminal enforcement perspective.”
“People seeking to improve their lives and the lives of their families are not criminal, they are not evil with intent, but simply doing what you and I would do to protect the well-being of our families,” Klein Solomon underlined.
The impact of negative narratives about migrants and refugees is starkly evident in ICMC’s work.
Walter Brill, ICMC Director of Operations, noted the importance of resettlement as part of the organization’s history. On average, he said, ICMC would resettle 7,000 refugees to the United States every year. Unfortunately, over the last year, this “has almost come to a standstill,” with only about 100 people resettled over the last five months.
While the change in U.S. policy has had a significant impact, Brill said, “It is not sufficient to complain regarding the decline of resettlement to the U.S. We have to appeal to other countries to do more,” in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility sharing.
Making the Reality Visible
The panel moderator, Cindy Wooden, Rome Bureau Chief for Catholic News Service, challenged panelists to consider why it is so difficult to see the benefits of receiving migrants and refugees in host communities.
For Klein Solomon, the loss of jobs and identity due to the forces of globalization, and the growing gap between rich and poor make many people look “for someone or something to blame.” Because economic forces are “too abstract,” migrants and refugees become scapegoats for unemployment and the sense of instability, she noted.
Batchelor agreed that speaking in the abstract, talking about massive numbers and spreading misinformation makes it challenging to present an accurate picture. In addition to organizations providing evidence and facts, the voices of migrants and refugees themselves need to be heard. “Let them represent their own facts.”
However, it is also important to be honest about the impact of an influx of migrants and refugees.
“It’s always good to remember that refugees and migrants are very resilient, and a source of innovation. In the long run, national and local economies will benefit from it,” said Brill. “But there can be periods when it will be challenging, especially at the local community level.” Needs at the local level deserve recognition and more resources, he added.
Seeking Global Agreements
The United Nations process for negotiating a Global Compact on Migration presents a “truly historic opportunity,” said Klein Solomon. It is the first time UN member States are developing a cooperative and comprehensive framework for “safe, orderly, and regular migration,” she noted.
While the current UN process is a first for migration, many international frameworks exist for refugees. In developing a Global Compact for Refugees, Batchelor stated that implementation is the critical factor, and in this process, global solidarity has to be reclaimed.
“We see many States hosting huge numbers of refugees, in the millions, generation after generation,” she said. “Those countries are increasingly coming forward to say, ‘Where is the solidarity?’”
As an organization that traditionally works with both refugees and migrants, ICMC is concerned that separate processes for the two Global Compacts may create a gap in who receives essential services. Brill pointed out that the operational reality in many places is a mix of migrant and refugee arrivals, who have different support and protection needs.
Stressing the importance for agencies to work together, Brill stated, “We hope that in the implementation of these Compacts everyone will look at their complementarity and that nobody in need will be left behind.”
Watch the keynote panel discuss the state of migration and refugees today